chapter  2
2 Building Tasks
Pages 12

In Chapter 1 we argued that language-in-use is about saying, doing, and being. We argued, as well, that by saying, doing, and being we enact certain “games” or “practices” (e.g., committee meetings, a Yu-Gi-Oh! play session, an argument in court, a turf battle between gangs, teaching reading to a firstgrade class, “small talk” with a neighbor, asking someone out on a date) which, in turn, give meaning to our saying, doing, and being. These “games” or practices always belong to social groups (e.g., street-gang members, lawyers, anime fans), cultures (e.g., Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans), or institutions (e.g., universities, schools, governments). So when we enact these “games” or practices, we also sustain these social groups, cultures, and institutions. Different cultures have different conventions about how to make music. But within any culture, each musical performer makes music that both fits those conventions (and, thus, is old) and is unique, played according to the talent and style of that performer (and, thus, is new). The same is true of language. We use the term “grammar” for conventions about how to speak and write. Each time a person uses language, that person does so in ways that fit the conventions (are “grammatical”) and that, at the same time, are unique, expressing what that person has to say and how they have chosen to say it. Like music, what we do with language is always both old and new. It is pretty clear what it means to make music, but we use language to make meaning, and it is not clear what that means. In the broadest sense, we make meaning by using language to say things that, in actual contexts of use, amount, as well, to doing things and being things. These things we do and are (identities) then come to exist in the world and they, too, bring about other things in the world. We use language to build things in the world and to engage in world building. It is as if you could build a building by simply speaking words. While we cannot build a building by simply speaking words, there are, indeed, things we can build in the world by speaking words that accomplish actions and enact identities. Let’s take a very simple example. An umpire in a baseball game says “Strike!” and a “strike” exists in the game. That is what the rules of the game allow to happen. It is a strike if the umpire says it is. Similarly, the rules of marriage allow a marriage to actually happen in the world when a properly ordained minister or a judge says “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Umpires actually make strikes happen and ministers actually make marriages happen. These are what we can call “direct speech acts.” Saying something makes it so, as long as one has said it in the right circumstances (so, “promise” is also a direct speech act, since saying “I promise” in the right settings-e.g., not on a stage as part of a play-makes a promise happen). But there are also things

we make happen in the world through language that do not actually require language, but which are much easier to do with language than without it. I can most certainly threaten you through gestures and behavior, but it is often easier to do it in language. We make or build things in the world through language. Not just strikes, marriages, and threats, but many things. For example, I can make (or break) a relationship with other people through language. If I talk to you in an informal, bonding sort of way, I am “bidding” to have you accept me as a friend, someone with whom you are comfortable. If you talk that way back to me, that sort of relationship becomes “real” (at least for that time and place) and has consequences in the world (e.g., it is now harder for you to turn down my invitation for you to come to my house for dinner). Whenever we speak or write, we always (often simultaneously) construct or build seven things or seven areas of “reality.” Let’s call these seven things the “seven building tasks” of language. In turn, since we use language to build these seven things, a discourse analyst can ask seven different questions about any piece of language-in-use. Below, I list the seven building tasks and the discourse analysis question to which each gives rise:

We turn now to an example of discourse analysis using the questions generated by the seven building tasks above. It is important, at the outset, however, to keep several things in mind. First, since we will only be dealing with a small piece of data, taken from a much larger corpus, we will be formulating hypotheses about this data. These hypotheses would need to be confirmed further by looking at more data and, perhaps, engaging in the collection of additional data. Much of discourse analysis-much of science, in general-is about formulating and gaining some confidence in hypotheses which must be further investigated, rather than gaining any sort of “definitive proof,” which really does not exist in empirical investigations. We must always be open, no matter how confident we are in our hypotheses, to finding evidence that might go against our favored views. Second, discourse analysis is always a movement from context to language and from language to context. We have not yet talked about “context,” an extremely important notion in discourse analysis. Right now we will just use the term in an informal way for the actual setting in which a piece of language is used. In doing discourse analysis, we gain information about a context in which a piece of language has been used and use this information to form hypotheses about what that piece of language means and is doing. In turn, we closely study the piece of language and ask ourselves what we can learn about the context in which the language was used and how that context was construed (interpreted) by the speaker or writer and listener(s) or reader(s). In this brief example, we can only engage in this two-way process in a quite limited way.